Video: Climate Outlook Forum for Wet Season
Hurricane Season Looks Ominous
This morning, the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Climate Change
and Disaster Risk Management, and the National Meteorological Services
hosted their 9th National Climate Outlook Forum.
This conference allows the climatologists, forecasters, and disaster
management personnel to dive into the very dense topics of current
weather trends and climate change patterns in the Caribbean, in order
to forecast how the annual, Trans-Atlantic Hurricane season will affect
the storm-battered nations of this region.
According to the experts, there are favourable conditions in the marine
and atmospheric environments for the year 2021 to become yet another
active hurricane season.
One of the speakers for today's forum was Chief Meteorologist Ronald
Gordon. He provided a detailed outlook on the very favourable
conditions for another active hurricane season:
Ronald Gordon - Chief Meteorologist
"Hurricanes, tropical systems are fuelled by the heat content in the
oceans. So, the warmer your oceans are, the more energy there is for
tropical cyclones to develop and intensify. And therefore, one of the first
things we look at when we think about hurricane season activity, is how
warm our sea surface temperatures are. And the map that you're seeing in
front of you is the weekly average of sea surface temperatures. You can see
that parts of the Gulf of Mexico, most of the Northwest Caribbean Sea, the
Central Caribbean Sea, and especially the subtropical Atlantic Ocean, which
is about 30 north are experiencing warmer than normal sea surface
temperatures at the moment. On the contrary, the Sub-Tropical Atlantic
Ocean and parts of the Caribbean are experiencing below normal
temperatures, and those are shaded in the green toward the blue shade.
However, we do not anticipate the Sub-Tropical Atlantic will remain that
way. It is predicted that the temperatures will increase, before the peak
of the season, which is around September 15th. The next major factor that
drives hurricane or tropical cyclone development in our area is the El Nino
Southern Oscillation. Whenever there's an El Nino, for example, warmer
sea-surface temperatures in the Eastern Pacific area, or the Tropical
Pacific Area, then more storms develop in that area, then more storms
develop in that side of the basin, or in that area of the world, and those
storms, whenever they intensify, they create strong upper-level winds. That
would cross into our area from west to east, and they basically tear apart
tropical systems trying to develop in the Atlantic basin, or the Caribbean.
We refer to that as vertical wind shear. So, whenever there's an El Nino,
tropical cyclone activity in our area tends to be suppressed. The chances
of El Nino are much reduced, or there's less chance that there will be an
El Nino. So, that suppressing factor is likely not to be there."
In that same presentation, the Chief Meteorologist took a closer look
at all the regional forecast predictions of tropical cyclone activity
for the 2021 hurricane season:
"Here I have about 5 different forecasting agencies, and what they're
predicting for this season. And in the red, again, I'll remind you of what
the average season is, and for reference, we look at what happened last
year, which was a very super-active hurricane season, as many of us will
recall. So, one of the agencies, Tropical Storm Risk is saying 17 named
storms, 8 becoming hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes. Colorado State
University, 17 named storms as well, 8 hurricanes, but 4 major hurricanes,
and the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration in the US is
giving us not a single number, but they go within a range. So, for named
storms, they're forecasting a range of 13 to 20 named storms, 6 to 10 of
those becoming hurricanes, and 3 to 5 becoming major hurricanes. Our
partner institution or one of the regional institutions that we work very
closely with, the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology also
has started doing seasonal predictions. They only forecast within the named
storms' category, and they are forecasting 14 to 22 named storms for this
year. AccuWeather, they're going for 16 to 20 named storms, 7 to 10
hurricanes, and 3 to 5 major hurricanes. The picture that you're seeing
clearly is that all agencies are forecasting slightly above-normal
activity, compared to the 1991 to 2020 Average."
The National Emergency Management Organization also participated in
today's forum, and according to the Coordinator, Shelton Defour, they
plan to roll out a disaster risk mitigation campaign, just in time for
the expected peak of the hurricane season:
Col. (Ret.d) Shelton Defour - Coordinator, NEMO
"We are near the peak period of the hurricane season, and so we must
increase our emergency and disaster readiness. For us, at the national
level, we are fine-tuning. We have gone through some of the necessary
preparations, whether it setting up the national and district committees,
which are very important in terms of the national structure. If you
understand NEMO, the framework is at the top, NEMO is chaired by the Prime
Minister. Below we have national operational committees chaired by CEOs and
a few heads of department. Below that, we have district emergency
committees chaired by area representatives or ministers of government, as
appointed by the Prime Minister, and then below that, we have village
emergency committees. So, we're fine-tuning that structure, making sure
that the required state of readiness levels can be maintained or advanced.
And we are advocating strongly that this must be the approach by line
ministries in particular, in which these committees are embedded, so, that
when we transition from a non-crisis time to a crisis time, then it should
be smooth. The business sector, communities, and in particular families
must be doing the same. So, one of the things that we're embarking on will
be a house to house campaign, just as you have a political campaign, or a
war campaign, we're going to do a disaster risk management campaign, house
to house, community to community, engaging people to find out what's
happening. We must plan for the worst."
According to the experts, a 30-year comparison of the Atlantic
Hurricane seasons, from 1981 to 2020, revealed that there was an
"average" of 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes. For
the 30-year study from 1991 to 2020, the average season has gone up
slightly to 14 named storms, 7 hurricanes, and 3 of which turned into
major hurricanes. According to the Chief Meteorologist, the data
indicates that the increase is due to the fact that all nations along
the Trans-Atlantic Hurricane belt are in a "more enhanced" period of
tropical cyclone activity.
The Last Hurricane Season Was…
Today's Climate Outlook Forum also provided a detailed post-mortem of
last year's hyperactive hurricane season. 2020 was particularly
challenging for the countries in the hurricane belt and Belize, like
other neighbouring countries, had to be on high alert. Viewers will
remember that Hurricanes Eta and Iota caused the most destruction in
Central America. But the experts say that there were 3 main climatic
variables that lined up perfectly to cause an abnormally high number of
tropical cyclones during last year's season.
Here are a few excerpts of a presentation on the topic, which was made
by Dr. Cedric Van Meerbeeck, a climatologist at the Caribbean Institute
for Meteorology and Hydrology.
Dr. Cedric Van Meerbeeck - Climatologist, Caribbean Institute for
Meteorology and Hydrology
"The year 2020 started with a drought, which continued on from 2019, and
that drought kind of largely subsided region-wide between July and August.
Now, we all remember that in 2019, the drought in the northern parts of the
country was really, really dire. So, that was part of the same regional
drought event. So, we started out with drought, then from April to October,
we had intense and record-breaking heat across the region, which was partly
also caused by the drought, including in Belize. Then, from August to
November, there were flooding rains in many areas, and all of that
supplanted by the business Atlantic Hurricane Season on record. The latter
3 extremes were fuelled by the warm ocean temperatures around the
Caribbean, and also by a La Nina event in the Pacific. Those two factors
are, to an extent, predictable, up to several months in advanced, and that
means that the major hazards that depend on those conditions can also be
forecasted to a certain extent up to several months in advance. Briefly
again, the 2020 Hurricane Season, we've already looked back at that, there
were 30 named storms, and overall activity was about 1.8 times more energy
given by the storms that than on a regular year, and you could see that
several of those agencies that were mentioned by Mr. Gordon, including also
CIMH had also forecasted a much higher than usual activity of tropical
cyclones for 2020. And CIMH also, in addition to season-wide forecast, we
also look at parts of the season. In 2020, you could see that all those
agencies, including CIMH, had forecasted with high confidence that there
would be many more storms than usual. The last impact for the hazard was
heat. The heat was so prevalent last year, that at the end of October, CIMH
issued a press [release] stating a record-breaking heat in 2020 across the
region and is that really a new norm. You could see that, in terms of
maximum temperatures, in terms of the number of heatwaves, etc. It was
really a remarkable year."
According to Dr. Meerbeeck, Belize was one of several countries in the
region that experienced at least 30 heatwave days between July to
September of last year.
Utilizing Seasonal Climate Forecasts to Become Climate Change Resilient
Public and private sector stakeholders joined in on the second virtual session of the National Climate Outlook Forum hosted in Belize. During this, the ninth of its kind, it was further established that the role of the National Meteorological Services goes beyond forecasting weather patterns. It provides early warning services used by various sectors to mitigate any negative impact of the changing climate. News Five’s Duane Moody attended the virtual session and files this report.
Duane Moody, Reporting
The role of the National Meteorologist Services of Belize is not just to bring you the daily weather forecast, but it helps with building resiliency by keeping you on your toes and prepared in the event of a storm. But that information is not only for you to protect your homes from inclement weather; it is data on the ever-changing climate that is used by farmers and construction workers or even fishers to enhance their effectiveness to earn their keep.
Orlando Habet, Minister of Ministry of Sustainable Development, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management
“This forum goes beyond informing you about what to expect for the remaining months of the hurricane/wet season – which is for us from July to November – in terms of rainfall, temperature and the likelihood of tropical cyclone development. It is intended to broaden the discussion on what the forecast means, what uncertainties exist and communicate climate and risk information to you the users that you can apply to your specific needs.”
The forum promotes regular dialogue, twice a year, and interagency coordination in responding to natural hazards, climate variability, extremes and change.
Dr. Kenrick Williams, C.E.O., Ministry of Sustainable Development, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management
“The forum extends to looking at packaged products that have been tailored to service Belize’s productive sectors. So a discussion that focuses around services for the agriculture, tourism, fisheries, health, disaster management and other sectors in Belize. We know that as part of building resilience to natural disturbances we have to be prepared.”
And so in efforts to build that resilience, the national met service has embedded artificial intelligence into operational systems, incorporating risk-management measures through various alert systems. Chief Meteorologist Ronald Gordon says that over the past thirty-five years, there has been tremendous progress made in the area of tropical cyclone forecasting.
Ronald Gordon, Chief Meteorologist
“The statistics indicate to us that we are in an area vulnerable to hurricanes and as such we should prepare each year no matter what the forecast is. It takes only one hurricane, especially one major hurricane making landfall on your area for it to be an active year for you. Of course the National Meteorological Service will monitor and track all storms in real time. Even before it develops, we are looking at the models and looking at potential for development and we are monitoring and once it develops, we are tracking, we are informing our very important partner agency, the National Emergency Management Organization, NEMO. NEMO will be coming after me to also discuss this, we will alert them about the potential of a system coming our way and we alert residents so that we can be prepared for any eventuality.”
Slightly Above Average Season: 14 Named Storms, 7 Hurricanes, 3 Major Hurricanes
During the virtual session, the National Met Service presented predictions for the 2021 hurricane season. There are two major factors that determine tropical cyclone development or hurricane activity in the region. Those include sea surface temperatures and the El Niño southern oscillation. Chief Meteorologist Ronald Gordon says that for the sixth consecutive year, a named storm formed before the beginning of the hurricane season. This year, however, there is a low chance of El Niño developing and he speaks about the expectations.
Ronald Gordon, Chief Meteorologist
“An average season for us is an average over a thirty-year period and that is based on the world meteorological organization convention or their practice. During the last period, from 1981 to 2010, there were twelve named storms as your average season and six hurricanes and of those, three become major hurricanes. Having moved beyond 2020 and now we are in 2021, we are using the new thirty-year period from 1991 to 2020 for which the average now is fourteen named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes. As would expect, the averages have increased especially in the named storms category and that is because we have been in a more enhanced period of tropical cyclone activity within the last thirty years. All agencies are forecasting slightly above normal activity compared to the 1991 to 2020 average; they are not forecasting what we saw last year, which was an extreme year for hurricane/tropical cyclone activity. For Belize, what they are saying is that there is a fifty-five percent chance that we could have one or more named storms tracking within fifty miles of Belize this year that is compared to a forty percent probability on average. In terms of hurricanes; that is twenty-seven percent compared to an average of eighteen and in case of major hurricanes, eight percent compared to an average of five.”
Climate Information Use in Agricultural Industry
The data is also used in the agricultural industry, which has been impacted by the changing weather patterns – the long drought and, in that same vein, extensive rainfall experienced over the past few years. It can also help with determining where a pest will reproduce, multiply and cause damage. So in that way a proper control strategy can be developed and the situation managed. The Sugar Industry Research and Development Institute has done extensive research on how climate change has been affecting the sugar industry in the north.
Dr. Luciano Chi, Resource Coordinator, SIRDI
“We have seen reduction in the production of cane and it was specifically due to one of the main factors that we are discussing this morning. In terms of weather information that we use to make our decision in northern Belize and also that information we use whenever we are implementing our research activities at the field level, we use the data that is available that can assist us in doing our research and activities in the field in the best way so we can obtain our results and see how it is impacting the activity that we are performing. Plays a role in evaluating new things. There is a stage four variety where we evaluate those varieties at field level and the results that we obtain is for us to select varieties that can be used in the sugar industry. However, in terms of the variety, one of the importance that this activity has on the sugar industry is that we know that the vast majority of the variety that we presently have here in northern Belize, most of them were selected more than thirty years ago and back then, it was under different climatic condition. And based on the graph that we have seen, there is a change in the climate pattern that we have observed. So it is important for us to continue evaluating new varieties every year so that we can actually adjust to the varieties under present climatic conditions and different areas where we can provide varieties that are climate resilient.”